American Prison Review

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer is as pretty self-explanatory of a title as it gets. A brave journalist decides to voluntarily get a job inside a prison facility in Louisana to secretly document what goes on behind the walls. Shane Bauer’s work here is nothing short of extraordinary and although I’ve yet to read the article he did for Mother Jones, what he wrote here in American Prison allows me a pretty good guess at how it will go. I believe a lot of people are attracted to negative things. They like to know what happens to bad guys in prisons. They want to know how severe it is. They want to know and see on TV are the things they hear about prison life are really that bad or if they are just fluffing things up to make it sound worst than it is. However, not many are willing to do what the author did here by actually infiltrating the prison as an undercover journalist to give the public the scope of just how bad things can get. The meat and heart of the story though is his research into how slavery and for-profit prisons are very similar.

We now have almost 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly a quarter of its prisoners.

Shane Bauer

American Prison alternates between chapters of Shane’s daily routine working as a CO in the Winn Correctional Facility and a history of how slavery and for-profit prison systems were run not for the purpose of rehabilitating offenders but rather to exploit them via hard labor to produce money for the state. As crime offenders were on the rise, many states were not able to deal with them all. Every inmate costs a dollar amount per day and with really no true way to recuperate that cost, they turned to privately run prisons. Faced with the same monetary issues, early for-profit prison systems relied on the actual inmates themselves to generate revenue by working the fields and working on state-controlled projects such as the railroads. It was such a good idea that these privately run prisons paid the state to give them as many convicts as possible to raise production levels. American Prison will make you mad, sad, disappointed, and fairly angry. However, the author leaves all that up to the readers. His account here seems fairly unbiased.

But for Hutto, I would discover, the idea of making money from prisoners was as old as the idea of forcing black men to pick cotton.

Shane Bauer

The things he has seen while working at Winn Correctional Facility are just atrocious. The sad news is that this account is only a few years old. We’re not talking about the early 1900s or so. We’re talking in the 21st century. While I will agree that many inmates and convicts being locked up is a good thing, I don’t know how the fund can be recuperated other than the convicts laboring to produce something useful to society itself. Obviously forced torture and other heinous activity can’t be used to coerce the inmates into working. As long as capitalism is alive, it will always be about the mighty dollar.

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